The long-delayed inquiry into historic child sex abuse is to be reconstituted under a new chair with tough new powers to compel witnesses to attend and provide evidence.
Home Secretary Theresa May named New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard to head the inquiry, which lost its first two chairs after questions were raised over their links with establishment figures.
Justice Goddard promised to hold a “robust and independent inquiry” which would hold to account those responsible for failing abused children.
Announcing her appointment to the House of Commons, Mrs May said that Justice Goddard had been selected after a search that involved more than 150 candidates, “due diligence” on potential conflicts of interest and consultation with victim groups.
The existing panel is being dissolved, with members able to reapply for positions.
The terms of reference are also being revisited, meaning that investigations could go back beyond 1970, though Mrs May indicated they were unlikely to be extended - as some have demanded - beyond England and Wales.
And crucially, the new probe will be put on a statutory footing under the Inquiries Act 2005, giving it the power to force witnesses to appear and answer questions and to hand over any documents it demands.
The nomination of the new chair was welcomed by campaigners, including some who had challenged the Home Secretary’s two previous choices.
Baroness Butler-Sloss stood down in July last year amid questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s, while her replacement Dame Fiona Woolf resigned following a barrage of criticism over her friendship with former home secretary Leon Brittan, who died last month.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk said he had “confidence” in the selection process and believed the inquiry - ordered last year amid claims of a paedophile ring involving establishment figures in the 1980s - was now going in the “right direction”.
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said Justice Goddard would “enhance the whole credibility of the inquiry”. Alison Millar, of law firm Leigh Day, which represents abuse victims, welcomed the disbanding of the panel: “We are very pleased to see that the inquiry will have a much wider remit and the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.
“We welcome in principle the distance that will be put between this judge and the British establishment where it has, in the past, proved difficult to find a suitable senior judge without links to people involved in the inquiry itself.”
The new chair, who was appointed to the New Zealand High Court in 1995, will appear for a pre-appointment grilling by MPs on the cross-party House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on February 11.
In a statement issued through the Home Office, Justice Goddard said: “I am honoured to be asked to lead this crucial Inquiry - and am well aware of the scale of the undertaking. The Inquiry will be long, challenging and complex.
“The many, many survivors of child sexual abuse, committed over decades, deserve a robust and thorough investigation of the appalling crimes perpetrated upon them. It is vitally important that their voices are now being heard.
“I am committed to leading a robust and independent inquiry that will act on these matters without fear or favour and will hold those responsible to account. The outcome of the Inquiry must ensure that the children of today and of the future will not only be protected from such dreadful exploitation but also empowered to combat it.”